Fishy business as Queen Mary boffins test humans for impulsive behaviour

Zebrafish... impulsive?

Zebrafish... impulsive? - Credit: Queen Mary College

Scientists are testing humans to see if they are more impulsive than fish.

They want to see if genes influence drug addiction—or drinking like a fish.

It could throw new light on generations of junkies and drunks.

The test is needed for the latest research at the London University’s Queen Mary College in London’s East End.

The boffins are exhibiting at the Royal Society’s summer Science exhibition which opened today, where they are asking the public to perform a simple computer task to test how impulsive they are compared to zebrafish.

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They have been testing the common tropical freshwater fish because it shares many genetic characteristics with mammals and can help them understand how genes influence behaviour.

A mutation has already been discovered that increases drug-seeking behaviour in fish, while variations in the same gene in humans are associated with smoking and difficulty in giving up.

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“Our research into zebrafish can help identify genes that control behaviour such as drug-seeking,” said Queen Mary’s Dr Caroline Brennan.

“Identifying genes affecting behaviour and how they work may mean we’ll be able to predict someone’s susceptibility to psychological disease and their responses to treatment.”

The researchers train the fish to approach a light in one of five compartments for food, then probe how impulsive they are by increasing the time delay between the test starting and turning on the light.

The fish appear to be more impulsive if they choose which compartment before the light comes on.

The Royal Society’s exhibition which officially opened to the public today at Carlton House Terrace, at the bottom of Haymarket, near Piccadilly Circus, runs until Sunday.

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